KOSCIUSZKO HUTS ASSOCIATION

Mawson’s Hut was built in the summer of 1930-31 by Herb Mawson, the manager of Bobundra Station, for stockman tending 10,000 sheep on the lease between December and April each year. By the mid-1930s the hut had also become popular as a base for skiers touring to Mt Jagungal or undertaking the Kiandra to Kosciuszko traverse.

 The upper Geehi and Valentine valleys were first grazed in the mid-19th century. In 1929 the New Zealand and Australian Land Company acquired a 7,000-acre lease between Macalister Saddle and The Kerries as summer grazing relief for its Bobundra station, south of Cooma.

The hut was built in only 5 days, Herb assisted by Lindsay Willis and Jack Bolton — two boundary riders employed on the lease, Con Bolton and Ernie Murphy — who carted the materials in on his bullock dray through Snowy Plain.

The hut quickly became a winter base for ‘The Main Range Rats’ skiing the northern part of the range and hosted a number of early women ski tourers including Marie Gelling — the first to ski up Mt Jagungal (1934), and Jean Trimble — the first to ski the K to K traverse (1936).

In 1943 the lease was split up, the Fletchers and McPhies taking over the southern part including the hut, until grazing of the upper Geehi and Valentine was terminated for catchment protection in 1950.

In 1963 some amateur skiers formed the Exclusive Squirrels Club, adopting Mawsons as their base for short winter tours. They undertook basic maintenance, fitted the plaque above the fireplace and built the rescue sled. In 1985 a new caretaker group formed the Squirrels Ski Club to honour their forebears.

Background

The main range north from Mt Kosciuszko was first surveyed by Hugh Labatt in 1843. The area was first grazed in the mid-nineteenth century, toward Jagungal being part of the Toom Falls squatting run, the Munyang/Whites River being part of the Murryang run, and the mid-lower Geehi being part of the Agintoothbong run. Stock were brought from Snowy Plain over Brassy Gap into the Burrungubugge valley, then pushed out onto the alpine pastures of the main range from November through to April. Ownership appears to have changed frequently; James Spencer, who once held the adjoining Excelsior Run to the south, complained the main range runs were not viable around that time due to snow.

Following the termination of squatting in the 1890s, most of the area around Mt Jagungal was reportedly leased by AJ Rial. Parish maps show Sir Samuel McCaughey holding a lease of ~27,000 acres over the Jagungal – Gungartan area in the early 1900s, transferring to John McCaughey as a permissive occupancy in 1915. After a reconfiguration of the area into snow leases, William Robertson acquired Block R of 7000 acres between Macalister Saddle and The Kerries in 1917.

In 1929 the New Zealand and Australian Land Company took over the lease of Block R (now renamed Block A3). This was to be used primarily for the summer grazing of sheep from it’s Bobundra station — situated south of Cooma.

It appears the stockmen camped out on the lease during the summer of 1929-30. That summer (or early the following), they built a crude kitchen shelter near the future site of Mawsons Hut, from iron they salvaged from the Grey Mare Mine.

In the summer of 1930-31, Herb Mawson, the manager of Bobundra and an experienced builder, came up onto the lease to build a permanent shelter hut for the stockmen. Herb’s father James, had been a builder in Cooma during the 19th century, whilst his brother Arthur Mawson had built Wragges Observatory on the summit of Mt Kosciuszko in 1898.

Con Bolton, who had built Tin Hut four years before, cut the timber posts out of the forest on the south side of Strawberry hill, above the ‘Mailmans Crossing’ of the Geehi — where the old cart track used by the mail rider ran from the Burrungubugge in to the Grey Mare Mine. Sawn timber was sourced from Kellys mill at Old Adaminaby. This with the corrugated iron and other materials being brought in on Ernie Murphy’s bullock dray. Paid £10 per day, Ernie brought the cart through Snowy Plain and Brassy Gap up to the hut.

The boundary riders employed on the lease included Lindsay Willis and a young Jack Bolton, working his first summer in the high country. They helped Herb on the hut, Lindsay recalling “Herb was a fast and hard worker. He was a builder by trade and he came out and worked 24 hours a day . . I used to ride the boundary early in the morning and come back to the hut and straight onto the job building with him, cutting timber and handing it to him he was deaf hard of hearing. Anyway when it got too dark, couldn't see to drive a nail . . he'd have his tea and then go down to the creek and strip off and have a wash in the cold water then go to bed. He hadn't been in bed very long, he'd be up hammering again!”

The hut was completed in about 5 days, a remarkable feat. The posts along the verandah were set a metre into the ground to brace the hut against the wind from the west.

Through the 1930s Davey Williamson, after whom Daveys Hut on Snowy Palin is named, worked as overseer on the lease. 10,000 sheep would be brought up each summer. Because the lease was enclosed by some seventeen miles of fencing, it could be worked by just two boundary riders, Lindsay and Jack. The typical seasonal pattern would be to spend November checking and repairing fences, December bringing up the sheep, January to March tending sheep and fences, and taking the sheep back down after 1st April. They would stop out overnight at Tin Hut and Daveys Hut whilst on patrol. A couple of times during the season they would travel back to Bobundra for salt and supplies, and to see family.

In the first year a summer snow storm had snow was drifting into it under the eaves and around the door, and an icicle forming where it came through the keyhole. For the second season (1931-32) the hut was lined with caneite.

For Christmas 1932 Lindsay Willis’ wife Mary came up to Mawson’s with another lady friend. Whilst Lindsay was out riding the chimney caught fire. The hut was only saved by Mary’s quick thinking and dexterity, climbing up the outside to pour water down the chimney to douse the flames. To prevent any recurrence, in the new year Lindsay rebuilt the fireplace up to mantelpiece height out of concrete, retaining a corrugated iron cladding.

Lindsay gained a reputation as a bit of a cook through his baking at Mawsons. As a sideline from the stockwork, which paid £4.6s per week, he guided guests at the Kosciusko Hotel on horseback tours at £1 a.day, usually for fishing spots along the Snowy River. One extended ride with a customer covered ~80km from Mawsons Hut to Pretty Plain and back to Jindabyne in a day!

Two of his customers are credited with saving the life of Davey Williamson. Doctors, they talked him into getting a hernia treated, without which he could have died from the riding and work out on the lease

Wild dogs attacking sheep were a frequent problem on the lease. After a particularly bad year, Jack Bolton began his career of dingo trapping. In the first year he caught eleven dingoes; over eight years he caught 73.

Post was delivered to the men on the lease by a Mrs Bolton. She was engaged to deliver the mail on horseback to the Grey Mare Mine, travelling the old dray route from Snowy Plain across to Strumbo Hill. Ernie Bale recalled that on Mailbox Hill there was a clump of rocks and they had sort of shelves in them and she used to leave the mail for Mawsons Hut — it was always known as the Post Office — she used to leave the mail and put a rock on top of it”.

Through the winter of 1934 the hut came to be appreciated as a base for winter ski touring by hardy types that would be dubbed ‘The Main Range Rats’. Early in the season, Dr J Maclean and the former Australian Ski Champion George Aalberg, undertook a trip from the Hotel to Mawson's Hut via Finn's River, and subsequently skied up Mt Jagungal. Reg Gelling, Dr Archie Telfer and George Aalberg stopped at Mawsons on the first winter Kiandra to Kosciusko traverse made for some years. Later that season Aalberg and Sverre Kaaten would establish a record of 14 hours 15 minutes for skiing K to K.

Also in 1934 Marie Gelling, R Gelllng and J McFarlane toured to Gungartan and Mawson's Huts, eventually climbing Jagungal. Marie is the first woman skier recorded as skiing Jagungal and this part of the range.

Through the summer of 1934 and 35, Dr Colin Gilder travelled the area between Kiandra and Kosciuszko, recording all the huts available to skiing parties and writing these up in the 1934 and 1935 Australian Ski Yearbooks. His 1934 entry for Mawsons reads “3 miles down the Valentine River from Gungartan, this hut is the most comfortable on the Range. It consists of two large rooms and a hall, all floored and having the walls lined with an insulating material. There are bunks for a party of four but no blankets or sleeping bags . . A large open fireplace . . but no provision for heating is provided in the sleeping room. It is usually stocked at the end of the summer months with firewood, but all provision for rations would have to be made by a party touring to this hut. If the visibility is good, Jagungal will be seen immediately ahead, and, slightly to the right in the immediate foreground, the prominent peak of the Cup and Saucer Hill . . Even in bad weather one could hardly overshoot the hut, as the prominent Big Bend of tile Valentine is less than one mile below the hut. Permission from the owners would have to be obtained before using this hut.”

The winter of 1935 saw Mawsons become a staging post for ski tours from all directions. Dr Telfer did another K to K traverse. At Mawsons his party were provided morning tea by Dr Gilder’s party, touring from Nimmo Hill to The Chalet via Snowy Plains House, Mawsons and Pounds Creek. Later Tom Mitchell and three others stopped at Mawsons on a tour from Khancoban to The Chalet via Pretty Plain, Grey Mare, Mawsons and Pounds Creek.

In 1936 Tom Moppett, Oliver Moriarty and Jean Trimble skied a K to K traverse — Trimble the first woman recorded to do so. Moppett recalled “The summit of Jagungal was covered In thick flying clouds but below them It was fairly clear. After a long climb we disappeared into the clouds where the visibility was reduced to a few yards. We climbed up to Trig Station but only stayed a few minutes; the wind was terrific and very cold. Going down the other side we had to go very carefully for fear of running into a rock or over a cornice, and at every check we skidded yards on the ice. Suddenly we dropped below the cloud level. One moment we could hardly see at all, the next we were in a bright sunny world, with a long slope beckoning down to the undulating snow stretching across to the Kerrie's and Mawson's Hut . . The day finished off so brightly that we thought we had done with bad weather tor a time. It was not to be. The next three days the blizzard raged round Mawson's, and we spent most of our time eating and sleeping.

We had had a tin of food left for us during the summer so we had plenty . . Porridge, stew, consisting or bacon, corned or smoked mutton, dried vegetables, rice, Globex: dried fruit and rice, and dumplings, pea soup, bread, damper, butter and jam, and flapjacks. Globex is a wonderful addition to the stew. Ordinary white bread keeps better than any other, for at least a week, If sealed in cellophane. A lot of jam is required. A mixture of raisins, prunes. figs, cherries and jellettes is excellent as spare food. We had plenty of chocolate but did not want it. The potatoes and onions found at Bogong Hut were relished. Thanks to Gilder & Co. we had an extra pound of butter at Mawson's. As we did not have a crosscut saw we had to leave their damper lying in state on the shelf!”
Winter 1937 saw parties engaged in longer tours, such as Oliver Moriarty’s group on a loop from The Chalet – Pounds Ck -Tin – Mawsons – O’Keefes - Round Mt – Dargals – Pretty plain – Grey Mare – Mawsons – The Chalet. F Parle & D Wightman, and others on fast tours. A group of Sydney Ski Club skiers led by Club Captain Michaelis undertook a 3-day tour from The Chalet to Jagungal and back. On the way out they reached WhIte's River Hut for lunch and Mawson's for a late afternoon tea.

The completion of Alpine Hut in 1939 saw Mawsons become a popular rest stop on day tours to Tin Hut & Gungartan, Grey Mare and Jagungal. From this time through to completion of the Schlink Pass Road in 1962, access into Mt Jagungal and Mawsons would come primarily from Snowy Plain rather than The Chalet and Kosciusko Hotel.

It appears the NZ&ALC retained the grazing lease for 14 years, until 1943, although this may not have been the case. In January 1940, the Commissioner of the NSW Soil Conservation Service, ES Clayton, and George Petersen undertook a 4 ½ day tour of the main range to assess the environmental impacts of the 1939 bushfires. They rode with packhorses, visiting Grey Mare Mine and Mawsons before stopping overnight at Whites, where they watched a buck jumping contest with the stockmen from Mawsons. “When we arrived at Mawson's Hut, the stockmen were in the hut . . the weather was still very cold and on the verge of snow. The men were busy making rawhide whips and hobbles from the wombat hide. It is the first time that I have seen any portion of the wombat used. The Aborigines would not eat the flesh; it is said that the bristle is of no use and the hide cannot be tanned owing to the greasy nature, but this fact and also its toughness allows it to be used as hobbles for horses. One of the Harris boys, Arthur, was there, with two more stockmen. They soon had the billy boiling and made us welcome.”

In 1943 the original snow lease was split up, the Mackay family acquiring the northern part (Block B3), whilst the Fletchers and McPhies took over the southern part (Block E3). Fred Fletcher worked the lease for seven years, until grazing on the lease was terminated for catchment protection reasons. The Summit Area from Dead Horse Gap to Mt Anderson had already been excluded, the upper catchment of the Geehi and Valentine Rivers in a triangle Mt Gungartan – Bulls Peaks – Grey Mare was excluded in 1950, and all grazing above 1370m (4500’) was excluded in 1954.

As a sideline through the late 1930s and 40s, Fred took supplies in to various huts for use by skiing parties. Using packhorses or horse-drawn sleds he would come in from Snowy Plain to Alpine Hut, then proceed onto Mawsons or Whites, skiing the supplies in the last part of the way as needed. In 1948, a summer snowstorm found the hut serving as a refuge for the local stockmen, a passing team of drovers, and a Newcastle bushwalking group led by Selby Alley. All up there were sixteen “warm men, seventeen frozen dogs beneath the floorboards, eleven shivering horses in the paddock and 1200 breathing sheepskin coats a mile or so up the hill”.

Upon the end of the lease in 1951 Fred Fletcher took up another snowlease at the Boobee and Far Bald Mountain, and Mawson’s Hut was left to only the recreational users.

Mawson’s hut remained relatively untouched by the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It is likely that the early surveyors and hydrologists on horseback stopped at the hut periodically during the early 1950s, and the occasional SMA Landrover found its way in to the hut from the Schlink Road or the fire trail past Cup & Saucer Hill during the 1960s, however there is no record of SMA visits and it is somewhat strange that no formed vehicle track was created/constructed in to the hut considering the importance of the Valentine River catchment in the Scheme.

The Scheme did impact the hut in one aspect — increased recreational use. Completion of the Schlink Pass road in 1962 would ultimately provide far-easier summer and winter access than the route from Snowy Plain.

By 1950 ski clubs were shifting their focus toward alpine skiing — specialty downhill ski gear, ski tows and large comfortable lodges accessible by vehicle. A few surviving ‘Main Range rats’ remained committed to back-country touring. Ted Winter recalled for Klaus Hueneke the 1950s as “lovely peaceful years when the Jagungal Wilderness was devoid of ski tracks and huts were rarely occupied. Meetings with other parties were a major social event, sometimes celebrated with a noggin and an extra mug of strong tea. In 1952 Ted, Joe Scarlett and John Hawkins met Don Richardson and eight Rover Scouts at Mawsons hut. Outside were 12 pairs of skis, each pair made by its owner from Australian timbers like tulip oak, silver ash, alpine ash and ivory wood.”

One regular visitor was Bill Kenyon. Bill had first walked Kiandra to Kosciuszko in 1938, become a skier and joined the Kosciusko Alpine Club in 1948. In 1963 he founded the Exclusive Squirrels Club with fellow amateur skiers Maurice Joseph, Tom Blyton, Gus Fay, Tony Furze and Fred Porter. The Club adopted Mawsons as their base for short winter tours 1963-67, journals of which are kept in the hut. Their name derived from their hoarding of supplies at Mawsons each summer for use during winter ski tours. They undertook basic maintenance, fitted the plaque above the fireplace, built a rescue sled for Mawsons and Grey Mare Huts, and installed timber stools — ranging in size from the biggest for No1 Squirrel (Kenyon) to a diminutive stool for No6 Squirrel. In 1970 the group was involved in the formation of the Kosciuszko Huts Association. In 1985 the new caretakers of Mawsons Hut created the Squirrels Ski Club in honour of their forebears.

Very high winter pressures through the 1980s made it difficult for caretakers to keep the hut in reasonable condition. Logbooks record an Easter night in the early 1980s when there were no less than 53 bushwalkers camped in and around Mawsons Hut!

The NPWS completely rebuilt the fireplace and chimney from scratch in 1999 after the loss of Broken Dam Hut, to ensure the ongoing safety of the hut from accidental fire.

A decline in off-trail bushwalking and backcountry skiing since the 1990s sees the hut receiving a more modest visitation these days, both summer and winter. Those who are fortunate enough to visit Mawson’s in snow will appreciate these early descriptions:

Paddy Pallin 1959: “If you haven't stood on Mawson's Hut and looked at snow-clad Jagungal shining in the morning light you haven't lived as a skier.”

Dr Norman Macindoe 1941: “The hut bas been neglected and leaks, but the snow country would gladden an old skier's heart and the view — never shall I forget the dawn on Jagungal. ‘The Bogong’, the blacks [sic] called it. The mountain — for it is a real mountain — a white cone, not just a round rise from a plateau. There at our feet lay the big bend of the Valentine, huge plains which in summer are peat bogs, but in winter are the ballroom of the gods, flat as a billiard table, sheer white, covered with crystal that reflected all the colours of the spectrum, and from this plain in a splendid upward sweep rose the sharp peaks of Jagungal. Around the summit was a ring of cloud like a halo which rose slowly to heaven under the sun's caress. I suppose not fifty people have ever seen from near at hand this the finest mountain in our native land. See it before you die — or die in the attempt.”

Documentary Sources

Downing, P: Huts and Homesteads of Kosciuszko National Park, Pauline Downing 2010, p166-67.

Hueneke, Klaus: Huts of the High Country, ANU Press 1982, p(xvi), p11, p49-57.

Hueneke, K: Kiandra to Kosciusko, Tabletop Press 1989, p205, p209.

Hueneke, Klaus: People of the High Country, Tabletop Press 1994, Lindsay Willis p59, John Bolton p65-66, Fred Fletcher p75, Ernie Bale p126, p354.

Petersen, G: Snow Revelry journal August 1957, via George Petersen’s Kosciusko article 38, Kosciusko Snow Revellers Club 1993, p118-120.

Petersen, G: Snow Revelry journal September 1957, via George Petersen’s Kosciusko article 39, Kosciusko Snow Revellers Club 1993, p122.

Bolton, John: interview with Graham Scully 23 August 1991.

Stokes, HL: ‘Victoria to Kosciusko’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1936, p62-63.

Gilder, C: ‘Skiing Huts of NSW’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1934 p60-62.

Gilder, C: ‘The Main range From Snowy plains’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1936, p181-2.

Macindoe, NN: ‘Gloria Mundi’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1941, p35.

Millions Ski Club report, Australian Ski Yearbook 1934, p114.

Moppett, TW: ‘Holidaying on the Main Range’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1937, p94-100.

Moppett, TW: ‘Kiandra to Kosciusko 1936’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1937, p94-101.

Moriarty, O: ‘North-west of Kosciusko’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1938, p48-51.

Moriarty, Lieut O: ‘Skiing on the Grey Mare Range’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1941, p24.

Pallin, P: ‘Equipment for Ski Touring’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1959, p64.

Sydney Ski Club report, Australian Ski Yearbook 1938, p80.

Telfer,A: ‘1935 Kiandra to Kosciusko Traverse’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1936, p192-194.

Wesche, V: ‘Twelve Years of NSW Skiing’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1941, p32.

McDougall Vines: Mawsons Hut Heritage Action Statement, unpublished report for NPWS 2007

KHA records, database and images.

NSW Dept of Land and Property Information: parish maps c1880s-1970 (Gungartan & Jagungal), snow lease plans 1931-68.

Some Nearby Points of Interest

The old yards sites on the flat-topped knoll 250m north of the hut.

The old snow pole line, descending east to the Valentine and a short way up the far side. May have gone all the way to the (now very feint) 4WD track past Cup and Saucer Hill.

The old overgrown bridle track south up onto the Kerries.

Soil conservation works including stone structures on the north side of Mailbox Hill. (And has anyone ever found the ‘post office’?)

The old track to the Grey Mare mine, running east-west ~~2km north of the hut. Some bush snow poles marked a possible route through a saddle in the Bulls peaks in the 1980s. A walker once commented that there was some mine equipment still stuck at one creek crossing, but this has never been verified.

Amenity

Water – at the creek 40m northwest of the hut. Moderate flow, not known to be dry.

Toileting – pit toilet.

Firewood – plentiful.

IN AN EMERGENCY

Nearest Phone Reception Point –??

Nearest Trackhead/Public Road – Guthega Power Station (unstaffed) & Guthega Road ~14km (1.5 hr unmarked route then 3hr walk along gravel road)